Thursday, February 8, 2018

Coldwater Rumble 100 - 2018

I have a bit of a mixed history with Coldwater. In 2014, the 52 miler was my first ever DNF. I came back for revenge in 2015 and wound up with my first ever podium spot on a 100 miler, finishing 2nd. This time, I was testing my body to see if it had recovered from the 24 hour PR effort at Desert Solstice 6 weeks prior. Clearly, 3 weeks was inadequate, as I had proven at the Snowdrop 55. My lunchtime runs the previous couple of weeks had me feeling heavy, sluggish and stiff. Despite the great weather forecast, my expectations were low.

The field was pretty small but UltraSignup added to my anxiety by ranking me at 12th out of the 62 participants, with a predicted finish time of 22:38:44. The only time they get it close to right is for the Javelina, but these low expectations fueled my competitive nature.

I wasn't just feeling heavy, all the holiday goodies added some unwelcomed pounds to my frame. I tried to put this out of my mind and hoped the less than 6,000' of climbing would not slow me down too much. I had one great thing going for me, the forecast. Unlike most other times, it kept improving as the day drew near. A high of 59 and mostly cloudy skies - who could ask for better? It was definitely the best 100 miler weather I have ever experienced.

The eastern sky was just beginning to lighten when they set us off. I got some strange looks when I tossed my shirt away just before the start. Standing around was a bit cool, but with temps already in the mid 50's and expected to increase slightly, I figured I'd chance it. Smart move, as I was soon plenty warm on the initial rollers.

As usual, I walked up the hills and ran the downhills right from the beginning, much to the annoyance of my fellow runners who wanted to sprint up everything while they were still fresh. Everyone was pretty quiet but after we settled in past the first aid station, I tried to strike up some conversations. I met a couple of guys who had never completed a 100, yet they were ahead of me for the first 10+ miles, while I was on a 17:30 pace. I tried to casually suggest that they may want to ease up a bit before it was too late, but I haven't found too many runners open to unsolicited advice. Just because this was my 30th 100 since 2014 didn't necessarily mean I knew anything.

I had been expecting Courtney Dauwalter to come zipping by after the first few miles. Even though she started 30 minutes later, I figured she'd be flying through the 52 mile sprint. As it was, I didn't see her until about mile 11. She was smiling and chatting as if she were on a casual jaunt. I actually kept pace with her for about a mile, just to chat. It was fun, until it wasn't. My body soon got past the pleasantness of the encounter and reminded me that I'm no Courtney. I let her go and slowed quite a bit for a few minutes in an attempt to reset my body for the remaining 88 miles.

Running without a watch again, I had no idea how I was doing, other than that I just didn't feel quite 100%. Close, but not quite. The legs felt just the slightest bit tight. The right ankle reminded me a bit of how it felt at Snowdrop. I try to be really in tune with my body, but sometimes it's hard to read if something is really wrong or just feeling insignificant twinges.

With all the other distance runners now fully mixed in, by the time I finished the first loop, I couldn't tell where I was in the 100 mile pack and tried not to worry much about it. When I finally crossed the start/finish, the clock read 3:25 for the first lap. I had hoped for somewhere between 3:30-4:00 and was quite pleased since I didn't feel like I had worked hard, other than the mile with Courtney. Back out for loop 2 and by the second half, I was more relaxed and my whole body just felt better. What shocked me was that by mile 36, the front runners were already coming the other way - 8 mile lead already! I tried not to panic. Back to the start/finish. 3:30 for the second lap. I simply couldn't ask for more, so I tried my best to ignore my seemingly hopeless placement.

Lap 3 felt great. I was totally in the zone, not working hard, having fun with the volunteers at each aid station. 3:32 this time. How could it get any better? Courtney and her husband Kevin helped me transition quickly. I grabbed my lights and headed off again. I had counted the oncoming runners and figured I was in 5th, 2 miles behind a guy that was being paced by my friend Rick Valentine, who had paced me on this course 3 years earlier.

The cool weather had brought on a bit of wind, which in the desert, translates to dust. Similar to forest fire smoke, dust makes for particularly colorful sunsets and this one didn't disappoint. The red was so brilliant, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the trail.

Darkness settled in and I finally flipped on my flashlight. I kept moving well and feeling good. Just a bit after the remote aid station at Pederson, I passed Rick and his runner. This is where things took a turn for the worst. I took just one step off the trail to take a leak, while the runners I had just passed went by. Quickly finishing my business, I started off again. With the first step, it was instantly obvious that something was horribly wrong. There were many sharp points of pain on the bottom of my right foot. My flashlight soon revealed that my right foot was now sporting a full grown beard - the cactus that I had apparently stepped on. My race was over!

Those unfamiliar with teddy bear cacti would wonder why the alarming prognosis. Dozens of hair-thin spines had penetrated the sole of my shoe and poked all the way into the bottom of my foot. I quickly contemplated calling out for help. What could anyone else do? What runner would be willing to screw up their race to help an idiot who stepped on a cactus? I had to fix this on my own.

I bent down and tried to pull of my shoe only to be instantly welcomed by my calf spasming in the convulsions of a cramp. Muscles are not very supple after 71 miles. I had to pry my shoe off with the other foot, and find a small, cactus free rock to rest my stockinged foot on. The shoe looked bad. The dozens of spines were so thin and fragile that they kept breaking off in my fingers when I tried to pull them out. Additionally, they were each lined with microscopic barbs which simply did not want to let go of my shoe. Miraculously, none of them ended up embedded in my fingers. I had to pull one at a time and then break the rest off with a small stone. Next, I felt inside the shoe for all the tiny spines that had gone all the way through. There was simply no way I could get a hold of them. I had to completely undo the laces so I could flail the shoe open wide, then, using another small rock with an edge, scraped the spines away. I was extremely doubtful that this would work, but other than hopping back 2 miles to the aid station on one foot, I didn't have many other options. My shoes were old, thin soled, with inserts that had been pounded to paper thinness. There was no protection for my feet. Even though I could no longer feel any pokies with my fingers, I knew that the slightest shift in a single one of the broken spines that were left permanently embedded in the sole would be felt immediately.

After quite a few minutes of shoe surgery, I slipped it back on and took some tentative steps as I realized that I had been standing shirtless and motionless in the 50 degree night. I needed to move before the shivering started. I didn't feel any pokes on the bottom of my foot. I kept going. Nothing. I tried to put it all behind me and get back into the groove that I had been enjoying, but the spell was broken and try as I might, I just never got it back. Surprisingly, I didn't experience any more problems with the foot, but slowed down, in addition to all the time I had lost standing still.

I finally re-passed Rick and his runner at the Coldwater aid and made my way to the start/finish for the second to last time. Somehow, my tired brain calculated a whopping 4:25 for this lap, though in reality I only slowed down to a 3:55. Had I realized that I hadn't slowed that much, I may have maintained a better mental state. Unfortunately, I kind of gave up at that point, figuring that I had somehow given up an entire hour on the pace I was previously holding. The only bright side was that I met my pacer, Aaron, and he informed me that I had just taken over 2nd place! Still not sure how it happened, as I was expecting to be in 4th, but I didn't argue.

I had never met Aaron before. We were introduced on FB by a mutual friend the previous week, when I had put out a request for a pacer. He turned out to be a genuinely nice guy and made that final lap so much more bearable, even blasting some Metalica for me on the final miles.

Until the cactus incident, I was running a perfectly paced race, on track for a 17:30 finish. I was now unsure of what I could do, but I certainly didn't want to give up the 2nd place position. Aaron encouraged me to push on and kept me from despairing in the dark night. As we approached the middle of the final loop, it became apparent that I still had a shot at breaking 19 hours. Though far from the 17:30 I had dared to dream of just a few hours earlier, this would still mean a 2nd fastest 100 miler. Along with 2nd place overall, I could definitely hold my head high.

I pushed enough to ensure the sub 19 finish, but I had no motivation for much more, nor did I want to hurt my body further, just to shave a few additional minutes off my time.

We finally rolled through in 18:50:47. 2nd place overall, and 2nd place in the combined Javelina/Coldwater Sonoran Desert Series.

This was not a perfect race, at least not as a whole. The first 71 miles were pretty darn perfect. I'm not sure if I could have held on for the final 29, even without the cactus incident, but 71 perfect miles is pretty darn good. And it gives me hope that I could pull that off for an entire race at some point.

I can say that 6 weeks was enough time to recover and now I can focus on Run4Water, 5 weeks away. I can also thumb my nose at UltraSignup, as I beat their predicted time by close to 3 hours and finished 2nd instead of 12th!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Snowdrop 55 - 2017


My plan was to hold off on running a 48 hour race until I felt like I had a handle on the 24 hour, but Kevin Kline enticed me to commit to Snowdrop back in November. Luckily (and not so luckily) I managed to run a nearly perfect 24 race at the Desert Solstice. The not so good part was that I beat my body up worse than ever before and only had 3 weeks to recover before Snowdrop. I knew I wasn't 100 percent going in, but I really thought I was close enough to give Joe Fejes and Bob Hearn a run for their money.

Since this race took place over New Years weekend, we made a family trip out of it and visited friends in southern Texas. This meant a full week of no running/rest. Unfortunately I didn't sleep quite as well as I could have during the week.

Brenda, the girls, and I got to Missouri City Thursday evening. After dropping the family off at the hotel, Bob and I headed across town to a presentation on the mental aspects of sports. The next day, I had a blast with the family at the Houston aquarium. Then we had just enough time to drop off race supplies and walk the course before heading back to the hotel for the “elite meet ‘n greet”. Joe, Bob, dr. Lovy and I got to answer questions thrown at us by Kevin and the audience. They made a really big deal out of us three “elites”. My girls thought I was quite the celebrity and I have to say I rather enjoyed being treated like such royalty.

The next morning, we let the girls sleep in while Brenda drove me to the race start. The sky was barely starting to lighten when the mayor cut the tape and jumped out of the way just in time for the runners to take off.

I surprisingly started out near the front and ahead of Joe and Bob, though Joe soon caught up and started to build a real lead. Rumor had it that he and Bob were going to be vying for the 48 hour age group record but it was clear Joe wanted that 100 mile award. He built up a lead of at least 6 laps when he finally started to slow down, giving me the opportunity to catch up. By the time 100 miles got close, Joe fell behind, but Bob was steadily gaining on me. I did manage to hold on, but only by a couple of laps.

The reality was that my body started showing signs of failing pretty early on. Only a couple of hours in, the inside of my right ankle started to bother me, enough that I was genuinely worried about real damage. I eventually headed into the medical tent where they made things feel better, but not good enough. What I really needed was a change of direction, but that wasn’t going to come for some time. To give my ankle a bit of a change in the meantime, I decided to switch shoes. That definitely helped, but I was constantly worried about long-term damage to the connective tissue. Eventually, the pain diminished and now, a week later, it seems to be just fine.

The ankle was only one of the many issues that surfaced. Certain portions of my quads started to ache, much earlier than should have been the case. My abdominal muscles tightened up, despite the relatively moderate effort. And worst of all, the soles of my feet started to feel sore. Since I was well hydrated, I took the gamble with some aleeve, but that only helped partially. By the second day, I couldn’t go more than 5 or 6 laps without having to sit to take the weight off the feet. Running felt good for short periods, but then I would suddenly feel exhausted and even walking was a struggle.

Additionally, I was sleepy. Way more sleepy than I should have been the first night. I almost never have issues missing a single night of sleep. This time, it was tough. Not long after I hit the 100 mile mark, I decided to go down for a “nap”. The 90 minute nap turned into 4 hours and I had to really push myself to get up.

In the end, I logged 151 miles and called it quits right before midnight - New Year’s. I enjoyed the warmth of the food tent and celebrated with a few glasses of champagne, along with a can of hard cider. Then off I went to take another 4 hour nap.

Honestly, the only thing that got me out of my warm sleeping bag on that icy morning was that I felt obligated to cheer Bob on as he broke the 48 hour American age group record. He had 210 miles in by midnight so I was expecting great things. I was a little annoyed to find out that he was already back at the hotel. His legs were apparently so bad that he needed help getting out of bed the next morning and a wheelchair to get through the airport. I guess that partially excuses him for not continuing to run for my entertainment.

Form a purely running perspective, Snowdrop was a big flop, though I wasn’t upset with myself as I did nothing wrong, other than not allowing enough time to recover. In that respect, it was a good learning experience. I honestly felt bad about not running well enough or long enough. On the bright side, since I wasn’t running on the 3rd day, I really got to know a number of the participants and cheer many on as they pushed themselves to amazing accomplishments. Joe and Kelley Fejes won the overall titles, but it was all of the personal accomplishments that I got to witness that really touched me. Teenagers running 50-100 miles, so many people pushing themselves to walk/run 100+ miles. That is what I love about this sport. Being side by side, not just with world class runners, but more importantly, with everyday people who push themselves to unimaginable accomplishments. You can watch arrogant millionaire athletes on your TV screens or as ants running around way down on the field from the nose-bleed bleachers. I’m inspired by the participants who push themselves for the love of the sport and a great cause, without the money, fame, or recognition.

Being a fundraising event and a running event can be quite difficult to balance, but Snowdrop excelled at both. This was truly my favorite of all the events that I have participated in. I got to meet incredible people and hear heartbreaking, as well as inspirational stories. I am humbled and honored to have been a part of it. I don’t think anyone walked (or limped) away without being touched. Even my daughters had a great time and met some memorable role models, young and old. If you’re looking for motivation, inspiration, camaraderie, this is the event.

Monday, January 8, 2018

2017 Running Year in Review

Well, most of 2017 was not that great as far as running goes. I ended 2016 with a DNF at Javelina, then had some achilles issues, and I was so burnt out on running that I backed out of Desert Solstice and announced on FaceBook that I was retiring from racing (something that I still get hassled about).

At that point, I was still first alternate for the National 24 Hour Team and that gave me just enough motivation to keep trying. So after a really low mileage November, I started logging some miles again, setting my sights on the Riverbank 24 Hour race at the end of February.

That race was pretty ugly. By about 75 miles in, I knew I was done, but hung in to complete 100. This certainly did not help my mental state, but given my stubbornness, I decided to register for the Run4Water 24 Hour race 5 weeks later. The results here were the same. I flopped big time and just hung in to complete another 100 miler.

I had now been dropped down to 3rd alternate and my morale was rock bottom. My initial reaction when I got the official news was “hell no, I’m not traveling to Belfast as an alternate”. I was looking to my wife for a bit of sane confirmation, but her reaction was “well, could we make it into a nice vacation?” Not what I was expecting. After a bit of discussion and confirming friends to take care of our daughters, we pulled the plug and decided to go.

This was one of the best decisions I made all year. The race experience was pretty awesome. I went in with no real expectations but I managed to squeeze out a 148 mile PR despite having stomach issues for the last 5 hours. Running alongside the greatest ultra runners in the world felt great, and though I knew I would never have a chance of winning, I realized that I belonged there just as much as any other runners. And, if I ever put together a perfect race, I could place at a pretty respectable level in the field. I wound up finishing 31st male and 4th US male. The rest of the time was an incredible trip around Ireland with my wife.

Coming back from Belfast, I was re-energized. I did not get into the Leadville lottery, so I paced my friend Katrin and had a blast experiencing the race from a different perspective. I didn’t have any major races planned until the North Coast 24 Hour National Championships. I probably went in a little too cocky, fell apart due to the heat and only hung in at the end so I could claim some prize money to pay for the trip.

My morale was taking a beating again so I decided rather last minute to go down to Arizona and have some fun at the Javelina Jundred, which was the start of my troubles the previous year. I really wanted to just take it easy, have a fun race, and enjoy the party atmosphere. But, as usual, my competitiveness took over. I started out a bit too fast, but unlike the previous year, I was able to keep things in control and only lost a little time on the 3rd loop. I came back pretty strong and finished in just over 18 hours, beating my previous best by almost a full hour. The 10th place finish was also a nice reward. This was just the boost I needed.

1 ½ months later, I headed back to Phoenix for the Desert Solstice. The field was intimidating and my UltraSIgnup ranking was way near the bottom, but I felt like I should be able to hang with the top runners for 24 hours. The weather initially looked perfect (60’s and cloudy) but wound up degrading to mid 70’s and cloudless. I felt fine during the heat of the day, but given how others suffered, I may have been slowed a bit also.

I started way in the back of the pack and very, very slowly made my way up. Though I suffered a bit of a low point after 50 miles, I kept a pretty consistent pace and hit 100 miles in 6th place. With a couple of runners dropping at 100 and a couple more soon after, I found myself in 3rd and slowly eating back laps from the leaders. I kept calm and didn’t take over the lead until about 21 ½ hours in. I had hopes of 155, then 153, then 151, but managed to eek out 150.275 miles. A new PR, and a win at a highly respectable race. More importantly, I was able to complete all 24 hours without any significant issues - blisters, stomach, hydration, etc.

Well, to end the year (and begin 2018), I signed up for the Snowdrop 55 hour race. I kinda promised myself I wouldn’t attempt a 48 hour until I felt like I had a handle on the 24 hour. I signed up for this one in November, knowing that I had one more chance (Desert Solstice) to figure out the 24 hour. Luckily I did.

I went into Snowdrop with only 3 weeks to recover from the 24 hour PR at Desert Solstice. I like to think I’m pretty good at recovery, but this just wasn’t enough after the harshest abuse my body has ever been subjected to. I miraculously stayed ahead of Joe Fejes and Bob Hearn and won the prize for hitting the 100 mile mark first, but I only squeezed out a total of 151 miles before I called it. Nevertheless, Snowdrop was one of my all time favorite events, ever. The runners and organizers were just awesome.

Though I only had 3 good races all year, 2017 had some pretty special highlights, including a total of 3,840 miles and 17 races (8 ultras). I’m hoping to build upon the mileage and experience to make 2018 even better.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Javelina Jundred 2017

Having only had one “decent” race all year (the 24 Hour Worlds), I really needed a motivational boost from the Javelina. I seriously considered running a safe and easy race, just to have fun and immerse myself in the festivities. But ultimately, I knew I was too stupid and competitive to not push. I also knew that if I pushed and “failed” (like I did last year), it would be devastating for my morale.

The initial forecasts, 15 days before the race, looked quite promising with highs only in the low 80’s. Unfortunately, by the time race day came along, the forecast was for 91 - better than last year’s 100+, but nowhere near ideal for a heat hating runner like me.

As usual, I started without a light, and it turned out just fine. I didn’t want to bother with it for the 20 minutes of darkness. Mooching off of others’ headlights worked well enough.

Just a bit past the Coyote AS, I got passed by Katrin while I was taking a quick pee break off the side of the trail. I soon caught up to her and we had a nice time chatting over the next few miles. The surrounding runners found it amusing that I had a self-imposed 22 hour cutoff due to a 7AM flight.

With the rolling terrain, I know I annoyed everyone around me as I would fly by them on the little dips, then walk up the rises as they passed me by. I get dirty looks for this early on in almost every ultra, but I know it’s the smart thing to do. Everyone works too hard on the uphills (especially early on when they’re full of energy), and they don’t take enough advantage of the downhill gravity boost.

I reached Jackass in 78th place, downed my first can of club soda of the day, stuffed a bag of Doritos in my shorts, and headed onto my favorite part of the course. This section from Jackass to Rattlesnake is mostly downhill and I took full advantage of it, rolling easily along and gaining another 14 places without too hard of an effort. For the last 5 miles of the loop, I started running and chatting with Woody, who was also from Colorado.

Despite my best intentions, I ran the first loop 4 minutes faster than last year. I promised myself to slow down on the 2nd loop, but Woody and I pushed the climb back up to Jackass a bit too much, despite the rising temperatures. By the time I hit the downhill going into Coyote, I knew I wasn’t moving as fast as I should. I also caught up with Andrew Snope and was surprised to see him wearing shoes, as he typically runs barefoot or in sandals.

Coming back into Jeadquarters, I wasn’t flying, but nowhere near the death march from last year, and I still managed to “bank” another 5 minutes. As anyone who knows me, “banking time” drives me crazy as it does not work and I usually scold even strangers for doing it. I was at least smart enough to know that I would pay the piper, and sure enough I did on the 3rd loop. It was my slowest at 3:49, basically losing back all the “banked” time.

At the start of loop 4, I made the mistake of keeping both hand-held bottles, not quite sure of how fast I would run and how much water I would need between aid stations. Given that I use a hand-held flashlight, dropping the extra bottle would have made things a bit easier. Nevertheless, I managed to pick up the pace a bit and only lost an additional 5 minutes on loop 4.

Not having a watch (I ran strictly by feel, which is definitely the best for me), I didn’t quite know how I was doing except when I crossed the start/finish. I knew 17 hours was long lost, but figured breaking my PR of 19 hours was still doable. When I crossed the line for the second to last time in 14:35, I really felt like I had a shot at 18 hours.

I tried not to force it climbing up from Coyote, balancing my desire to not loose time with my need to keep enough in the legs to fly down the final hills. As it turned out, I misjudged by just a bit. I was pretty much running blind (not literally, but just not knowing the time) until I hit Rattlesnake for the last time. I took a quick gulp of Coke and asked the volunteers for the time. “11:30” was not the answer I wanted. I was hoping to be closer to 11:20. I was pretty sure then that I wouldn’t break 18, but I couldn’t quit just yet. Maybe she was rounding up. Maybe her watch was off. No matter what, I was going to put it all out there and finish strong.

I ran pretty hard those last miles, quite pleased with my strength and speed after almost 100 miles. When I came through Jeadquarters, I was in an all out sprint, crossing the line in 18:02:24. So incredibly close. I was a little disappointed, but overall I was pretty pleased with my performance, and when I was told that I came in 10th overall, that lessened the pain even more.

I came into this race a good 5 pounds overweight, temperatures of +/-90 degrees are well above my optimum, and I went out way too fast. Despite all of that, I managed everything quite well and had a very good performance. It was definitely a good morale booster and as usual, I had an awesome time enjoying what is basically a 100 mile running party. I even finished early enough to catch a full 2 hours of sleep before my flight.

I’ll be back next year to chase after the 18 hour mark, and who knows, if the weather dogs smile upon me, maybe even shoot for the 17.

Desert Solstice 2017

Going into this race, my main goal was to run smart. Of course, I was also hoping I could put in a magical performance and hit 155 miles.

The worst part of Desert Solstice was that it actually went so smoothly. I know that sounds crazy, but if there really isn’t anything obvious to fix, how do I improve my performance. I can’t really point my finger at anything that got in my way. Sure, the weather could have been 10 degrees cooler and cloudy, and I could have been 5 pounds lighter, etc. But in the end, how much of a difference could those little changes have made? I hope that I have even better performances in my future, but what will it take to get there?

Early Fall feels like the peak of my running calendar. Before that, it’s too early to get the miles and the fitness up to where it needs to be. Afterwards, daylight shortens, motivation is difficult to maintain, and all the holidays make a healthy weight nearly impossible. Well, this year I did much better than usual. I kept up the mileage, but I was only partially successful in eating smart - actually I was pretty unsuccessful. The only thing that kept me from being recruited as a fat bellied santa claus was that the consistent mileage burned off some of the caloric intake.

I was probably about 5 pounds over my “ideal” race weight going into Desert Solstice. Then again, I’ve only hit this magic weight a couple of times in my life, usually in late summer, and never for more than a week or so. Anyway, I tried to focus on the positives. Though I made some mistakes, I had a decent performance at Javelina and that gave me a much needed morale boost. Javelina and Belfast were the only two halfway decent races I had all year.

As usual, the lineup at Desert Solstice was intimidating. My first appearance here in 2015 was was quite humbling. I got to watch Pete Kostelnick sprint 163+ miles as I struggled to complete 100, while recovering from a nasty case of Achilles tendonitis. Going into that race, I viewed it as 19 elite runners, plus Adrian. I was far from cocky this year, but at least I felt like I belonged there as much as many others. Sure, I couldn't keep up with the likes of Zach or Camille for even 1 lap, but I felt like I should be able to hold my own with most 24 hour runners.

Anyone that knows me knows that pacing is my biggest obsession when it comes to running. As much as that may be, there have been only a handful of races that I can look back upon and feel proud of my pacing performance. It is so incredibly tough to execute the right pacing strategy on an ultra. You always feel so damn good in the beginning, and then there are all of these “slower”, less experienced runners just flying by. How are you supposed to resist? It’s tough. It’s tough on a trail ultra where you only catch a single glimpse of these runners (until you pass them later). It is exponentially harder on a looped race, especially a 400m track, where you’re being lapped mercilessly.

The first third of the race was all about self control. The next 8 hours were about the sobering realization that I couldn’t really run much faster even if I wanted to. Quite honestly, it wasn’t until the second half of the race, when I started to very, very slowly reel back some of the endless laps that the front runners had gained on me that I finally started to feel good about things. I was far from celebrating, since victory was not assured until the very end, but at least I felt good about executing a smart race plan.

Isaiah Janzen had gotten off to a great start, and even when small kinks in his armour started to show through, he had built up so much of a cushion that it was difficult to imagine him losing the lead. Jeremy Hughes, from Canada was also putting in a really solid performance with no signs of slowing down. And then there was this Teage O’Conner guy running barefoot. He had great form and a super steady pace. And here I was, way down in the pack watching all these guys (and gals) putting up these incredible performances. Even after 70 ultras, It was hard to maintain my cool and not just call it quits.

Well, maturity is one of the few benefits of old age, and though I rarely exhibit it, I quietly and patiently plodded along, hoping that things would change. As I’m always telling my daughters “You can’t control what anyone else does. All you can do is put up the best possible performance that is inside of you. If that’s good enough for a win, great. If it’s not, you should be no less proud.” Let’s be honest, winning is pretty darn nice, but I truly rate my performances on how well I feel that I did, not whether everyone did worse than me.

I really did run my own race. I didn’t race against anyone until the last third of the race, as I was trying to catch Isaiah and Jeremy. As I did start to finally narrow the gap to these guys, I have to admit that I played a little game with them, as much for my mental benefit as for their detriment (I’m so evil). Anytime I would be close to lapping one of them, I would ease up just a little, collect myself, then put in a little extra speed as I went by. I hoped this would do one of two things; first, it might convince them of my physical superiority and they would just choose to surrender rather than continuing their futile attempts, or secondly, they might attempt to match my pace and in their weakened state destroy any chances they might have had to recover. Can you just picture me twirling my waxed mustache and petting my cat as you read this? And here you thought that ultrarunning was such a collegial, feel-good sport.

Even after so many ultras, I still experiment and make modifications. This time, I cut the toes off my shoes ala Joe Fejes. This seemed to work quite well. I ended up with a single, large and unsightly blister, but it did not affect my performance. The sock on my right foot merely rubbed and snagged the top of a toenail. Secondly, over the last 8 hours, I took almost all of my calories from Coke. The few cookies and chips I had were merely to keep my empty stomach from gnawing on itself. Though I had to make 2 pit stops in the last third of the race, I never had stomach issues.

Though my 155 goal disappeared pretty early on, I thought I had an outside chance of beating Jon Olsen’s 153 from Belfast. As that one slipped away, I was still on track to go over 151 and regain my 4th place position that Greg Armstrong had taken over just a week before. Unfortunately, that one slipped away also. I was running such a tight game that with a whole 90 minutes left on the clock I realized that 151 wasn’t going to happen. I was even worried about breaking 150. I have to say that I probably pushed my body harder than I ever have before. Not just the legs, but my entire body. My guts. My bladder, etc.

I really must thank John and Senovia for their awesome crewing. I had never met these two before, but through a mutual friend, they agreed to help me out and they did an amazing job. They even put up with my mood/focus over the last few hours when the smiles wore out. And, as usual, Aravaipa did an amazing job in putting on this great race.

I missed some of my goals, but I’m quite proud of my performance. Winning is great, but running such a well executed, steadily paced race is what really makes me happy.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Leadville 2016

5 weeks before Leadville, I hit the turnaround of the Silver Rush making plans for my non-Leadville summer.

I didn't get in the lottery back in January, and after a short period of pissed off disappointment, I decided I would forgo one of my favorite races (Ultra Adventures Capitol Reef) in order to run the Silver Rush, so I could earn a ticket to the Leadville 100.

After a pretty good training season, I was expecting a PR and an easy ride to Leadville. As I started out with, by the time I hit the halfway mark, I knew my dreams were gone. Though only a few minutes behind my target time, I had worked way too hard and knew I could not keep it up for the return. All the way back, I kept mentally rearranging my racing and training schedule for the rest of the summer. There were plenty of positives - no more altitude training, total focus on the North Coast 24, etc.

I started to feel a bit better after the last aid station and pushed to the finish, but only so that I could at least break the 9 hour mark. I sprinted across the line with my worst time in 4 visits to the Silver Rush and was completely shocked when the gal handed me my finisher's medal, coffee mug, 3rd place age group award, and the coveted copper token to the Leadville 100!!
Apparently, many others had poor performances out there and my time was good enough.

All of a sudden, I was re-rearranging my racing and training plans.

5 weeks later, I jogged up to the start line of my 3rd consecutive Leadville 100, and for the first time, I wasn't even nervous. I felt comfortable and relaxed, knowing I had the experience and had earned my right to be there - not the least bit cocky, but I just felt comfortable. I wasn't even wearing my gps this time, opting to go strictly by feel.

I started way closer to the front than previous years and fell into a pretty good groove from the start. By the time I got to Turquoise Lake, only a few miles in, I hit the first snag. The flashlight that was supposed to last 2.5 hours was already dying!  With 1.5+hours till sunrise, I tried not to panic.

Then, part way around the lake, I missed a turn, going off course about a hundred yards, and I couldn't even blame it on the failing light. I got back on track, letting out a few choice words. Luckily, I made a conscious decision to keep a positive attitude. If the finish came down to a hundred yards, I could be mad again. Otherwise, I still had 95 miles to make things go right.

I tagged along with other runners to take advantage of their lights, marveling that I stayed upright on the dark trail, and finally made it into May Queen. Taking just seconds to unload my useless flashlight and refill my bottle, I headed out through the cheering crowd asking for the time. Joe Agnew (Kelly's wife) saw me, yelled out that it was 6:01, and sent me off with some encouraging words.
Only 12.5 miles in, but I was on my most optimistic pace. How long would this last? I had calculated 21 hours as a tough, yet achievable goal. That would be an hour better than last year, so a pretty good improvement if I could do it.  But, as usual, I had also planned out a super fast pace, mostly so I could be prepared if I ran certain sections really fast. I certainly wasn't planning on starting out that way. 

I felt good going up the backside of Powerline and even better flying down the front. Then, after a short section of asphalt, I rolled into Outward Bound, now 5 minutes ahead - so fast that Brenda and the girls weren't even there yet, as I was still moving faster than my fastest pace estimate

After a jaunt through the grass field, we were back out onto another stretch of pavement. It was at this point that I started to feel the morning's efforts. Fortunately, I was smart enough to ease things back a bit before it was too late.  I don't know where this bout of patience and maturity came from, but I'm sure it saved my race. 

It seemed to take forever to get to Half Pipe, and though I didn't know it at the time, I lost back that 5 minutes. I kept running smart, taking it easy on the up hills and rolling comfortably along on the downhills.  This is a deceptively difficult section - the field is stretched out so you can be alone at times, yet it's still early enough for many runners to be pushing too fast and pull you along. It's also one of the more "boring" sections of the course as there are no significant natural features and no spectators around

At Twin Lakes, I was met by Mike Robberts (who would pace me from Winfield),  Brenda, and the girls. I moved through pretty quickly and found out that I was pretty much right on my 20 hour pacing estimate.

I headed up towards Hope Pass and definitely felt stronger than the previous year, though I wasn't passing many runners. It turns out the reason was that I was so much further up the field than previous years, there were just fewer runners to pass.

The volunteers at the Hopeless aid station were awesome (as usual) and I didn't even have to slow my pace. They ran up to get my bottle, filled it and handed it back as I passed through. I was also greeted by Ethan Matyas, who was not racing but had come up with his son to hang out and cheer on the runners. 

Up Hope Pass I went and down the other side. It was quite a bit down that I finally came across the leader, Max King, who was on a record setting pace. By the time I hit the right turn that parallels the road, I had only crossed paths with 3 leaders - way fewer than previous years. Gradually, more runners came up the trail, and I stopped counting. Just after making the last turn down towards the road, I came across Tim Olsen, surprised that he was less than 2 miles ahead of me.

At the road, I saw David Silva, but of course, he had his camera off. Heading into the aid station, Mike greeted me and helped me transition through efficiently. I called out for the time and had to get a couple of responses before I could narrow it down to the minute (every minute was important). 9:30 into the race! 40+ minutes faster than previous years and still feeling pretty good. I knew that it was a long shot, but returning a full hour slower would still give me a chance at the 20 hour mark.

Mike and I headed back along the rolling trail where I was still crushing the downhill portions. Then to the left turn and up towards Hope. The day was getting hotter and I was feeling it, but was still pushing up at a reasonable pace. We passed a couple of runners on the way up and saw many friends coming down. It felt great to hit the pass, feel the cool breeze (the timers hanging out on top were wearing heavy down parkas), and see Twin Lakes far below.

Mike helped me get through Hopeless quickly and we continued to fly down the mountain, while still giving my legs a chance to recover from the climb. Back at Twin, I took a couple of minutes to re-hydrate with two cans of club soda and change to dry socks and brand new, out of the box shoes. Tania was there with some words of encouragement but soon we were back onto the course, not really knowing how I was doing on time.

On the way to Half Pipe, we see-sawed with a few sets of runners/pacers - I would pass on the downhills, they would catch up on the climbs, but slowly, I would pull away. As we got to within a couple of miles of the aid station, some guy and his pacer came whipping by, on a downhill, no less. Tuned out it was Mike Aish. Somehow, he fell way behind yet had rebounded strongly. Soon thereafter, we passed Tim Olsen, who was slowly walking on a relatively flat section. I hate to see anyone suffer, but I have to admit that it gave me a shot of adrenaline.

I had done some rough calculations as to the time I needed to still have a shot at 20, and when we got into the aid station, I was almost disappointed that I was still on. I was feeling a bit tired after 70 miles and  looked forward to slowing up a bit but with the magical 20 still a possibility, I just couldn't let the opportunity slide without an all out effort.

Into Outward Bound we came, with the sun still hanging over the mountains. Brenda and the girls were there for a quick emotional boost. I also swapped pacers. Mike had done an awesome job getting me this far and now it would be Anthony's turn.

I downed a can of Coke, big cup of ramen, put on a shirt, and off we went. My time into OB was borderline for making 20 but I pushed on, though I didn't want to overdo it just yet. I still had memories of my first year when I totally fell apart at the base of Powerline.

This year was as different as night and day. Literally. This was the first time I hit the base of the climb in daylight. Boy what a difference that makes - both physically and psychologically.

For an added boost, part way up the climb we came across a runner puking off the side of the trail. As we passed by and shared some encouraging words, Anthony whispered "I think that was Mike Aish".

Again, I don't relish anyone suffering, but it felt good to know that the only person to have passed me after mile 30 was now back behind me. Mike did make a push for a bit, but to no avail.

We finally broke down and pulled out our lights right before the summit. Just as we were hearing the commotion from my favorite aid station of all time. The stoners were out! It seems like they outdo themselves each year. These guys saved my life and my race the first year and I remind them of that each time. They are just awesome and provide such a needed energy boost this late in the race.
After some shots of Coke, Anthony and I flew down the back side towards May Queen. He seemed pleased with my downhill speed at this mileage, which made me feel pretty good. Pulling into May Queen, we quickly refueled and moved out. We had just over 2.5 hours till the 20 mark. This was doable, but it would be close and it certainly would not be easy.

Part way around Turquoise, I stopped to take a leak and in the light of the flashlight was shocked to see that I was pretty dehydrated. With almost 2 hours to go, much could still go wrong. I forced myself to drink more, fearing the kind of total collapse that I've experienced with severe dehydration.
We passed a couple of runners, but the trail around the lake just seems to be interminable at the end of a tough day. By the time we were wrapping around the east end of the lake, I probably hit my lowest point of the race, but thankfully Anthony did a great job of keeping me motivated. We finally hit mini-Powerline and did another quick time check. It was still within reach, but not having exact mileage and with the Boulevard uphill still to come, nothing was certain.

As we got closer to town, the previously unthinkable goal of 20 hours was right there in front of me, waiting to be grasped. My mind and body were fully exhausted as we crested the final hill and came into view of the finish line. And there ahead of me was the red "taillight" of another runner.  I pushed with everything I had left, but just didn't have enough distance to fully close the gap. 

19:51:47!!!!  I broke 20 and finished in 10th place overall. The two elements of my most optimistic secret dreams.

And as it turns out, that runner that finished less than a minute ahead of me was none other than Max King, who was on a record setting pace for the first 60+ miles.

As I was recovering in the medical tent after the race, I told everyone around how I was going to retire from Leadville. I had achieved almost impossible goals. There was no way I could outdo this performance. I needed to go out on top, like Michael Phelps, except without all the gold medals, or millions in endorsements, or superhuman physique...  Okay, pretty much nothing like Michael Phelps, but still, on top. It only took til sunrise for me to start rethinking that decision. Surely, if I trained just a little harder, I could shave a few more minutes off, and if the weather was even better, maybe a few more minutes. My family may have something to say about it, but at this point, Leadville number 4 is calling to me. 

After the race, I felt pretty good except for the plumbing. I was having to run to take a leak every 5-10 minutes and I thought I might have some internal bleeding (ultra runners freely talk about this kind of crap (pun intended)). Luckily, this all went away within the next 24 hours. By the time I woke up from a 3 hour nap, my legs were feeling pretty good too. They were a bit on the sore/stiff side, but not too bad at all.

All the training and experience paid off, in addition to a good load of luck. But another big reason for the success was that I constantly made minor changes to my pace and effort to keep pushing hard while not red-lining. I never really ran with anyone in the first half of the race, allowing me to keep my own pace the whole time. On the return, both pacers, Mike and Anthony allowed me to dictate the effort until the very end. With all my experience, there is nobody else who knows what my body should or shouldn't be doing at any particular time. Also, my 52 minute positive split is a clear indication of great pacing. While I'm still chasing the elusive negative split on a hundred miler, this came pretty darn close.